Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Smurf Life, Part 1: Fan/Boy

I was in the hospital last week visiting my newborn nephew, when I met a little kid proudly displaying his freshly pressed Thomas the Tank Engine water-activated tattoo. It was on the backside of his hand, which not-so-coincidently held some plastic replica of one of Thomas's buddies.

As I sat in the hospital room, cradling a stuffed Smurf in my left arm, I smiled when the kid ran up to me and proudly proclaimed: “I have a tattoo! And I have the toy! Look!”

“That’s awesome, homes” I replied. “Me too.”

(I should say here that the stuffed Smurf I was carrying was for my nephew. My own was at home on one of my shelves. I don’t take the Smurf out and carry him around. I mean, I would, but that would just get him all dirty.)

“Can I see?” he asked, as he pulled his hand out my face.

I put the Smurf in my nephew's crib, obligingly unbuttoned my over-shirt and started pulling up the sleeve of my tee, when I stopped and asked:

“Do you like spooky things?”

“No, I like baseball.”

“Well, if and when you do, ask me again.” I put my button down back on.

How the hell do you explain a smurf skull to a four year-old? The Smurf I was holding was probably the first one he’d ever seen, and there I was about to give him a glimpse of the end of their multi-century life cycle. I mean, he probably has never even heard of Tupac (although I have to admit, I have no idea what kids are listening to nowadays), so would he even get the “Thug Life” reference that crowns the art?

His father, one of my brother's friends, did get the reference and appreciated Death’s Head Smurf - as he’s been named - after I showed him and his curious girlfriend later on (and out of the kid’s sight.) They got a bigger kick out of it after I explained that I was probably the country’s leading, if not only, self-proclaimed Smurfologist.

Then the usual string of questions came…

What’s with Smurfette? Why is she the only female smurf? How do they reproduce? How did you get to be a Smurfologist?

The answers:

How do you mean? She’s not. They don’t, the stork brings the new babies. And well, that’s a long one…

Got a minute? Because maybe it’s time we put this one on the record. Might take a bit.

The Smurfs animated series debuted on September 12th, 1981 at 8:30AM. I was four. At the time, I believed it was perhaps the most amazing hour of television that I had ever sat through in my life. Then on the following Friday, I saw the newest episode of The Incredible Hulk and exactly the same thing. But, on Saturday the 19th The Smurfs was on again, and that reclaimed the prize. This cycle continued until the Hulk was canceled at the end of that season. Then, I’m sure another show took over for it almost instantaneously. Remember, I was four. That’s how things like that go when you’re four.

I honestly don’t remember too much from that time, but I do remember that I became absolutely obsessed with The Smurfs. How could I not? They spoke in their own uber-cool language, they were adorable as all get out and because the Wallace Berrie company had started to import European Smurf toys as early as 1978, they already had toys on the market that I could annoy my parents for.

It was a huge phenomenon. Everyone watched The Smurfs, from my older brother who claimed it was “dumb” - although he sat with me for hours crafting little replicas with our Paas Make Your Own Smurf Kit – straight through to my grandmother, who at 60 years old tuned in so she could have something to talk about with me during our weekly phone calls.

Below is a composite reconstruction of conversations that occurred between young Matthew C. Murray and Anna T. Cole, from 1981 to 1983, based on various family recollections:

Grandma: Did you watch The Mertz today, Matthew?

Matthew: They’re smurfed Smurfs, Me-Ma.

Grandma: Don’t be a whiner, Matthew.

Matthew: I’m not whining.

Grandma: Then, what... are you crying?

Matthew: I’m not crying, Me-Ma.

Grandma: Of course you are, I can hear it in your voice.

Matthew: I’M NOT CRYING! Jeez, what is your smurf broken?

Grandma: It’s going to be okay, Matthew. Stop crying.

Matthew (actually starting to cry, angrily): I…I…I’m not cr-cr-crying!!!

Grandma (laughing): Well, I watched The Mertz today and that Gargamel sure is funny, huh?

Matthew: (uncontrollable sobbing)

Grandma (mock condolence): Aw... Why don't you sing a song for me, Matthew?

Matthew: (to the tune of the early 80s Noodle Roni Parmesano jingle) Noodle Roni Parmagiana, a bit-doe-wo-wit-doe-wee*!

Matthew slams the phone down in utter disgust. Grandma calls back laughing hysterically.

* Translated: "...a bit of Old Italy"

Years went by. The Smurfs expanded to a 90 minute show, then went back to an hour show, then back to 90 minutes based on the failings of other Saturday morning offerings. It moved to 9:00. Then the Smuflings came on the scene. Then Puppy. Then Grandpa. All the while, other shows had slowly been eroding my viewership. Other more exciting shows, with a more “sophisticated” sense of humor and better tie-ins like the Muppet Babies and Lazer Tag.

And let’s face it, The Smurfs had become “kids stuff.” All-in-all, I collected the odd Smurf and occasionally watched the cartoon until I reached the age that I could no longer hide it from my friends that I did so. Oh, that and the Superfriends: Super Power Team: Galactic Guardians Show was so much cooler anyway.

It was time to put childish things away, and embrace Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling. I was nine. That’s how things like that go when you’re nine.

Stay 'Tooned for Part 2…

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